The Novel Hall Dance Series returns this weekend after a year’s absence with more than a dozen middle-aged and elderly women farmers from Vietnam paying tribute to the decades of war that ravaged their homeland as well as the eternal, seasonal struggle that peasant farmers face with the climate. That alone should demonstrate that dance lovers can expect the unexpected with this year’s four-part Asia and New Look (亞太新勢力) series.
And that is just what the program’s artistic director, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), wants from the series, which he has always envisioned as pushing the edge of dance from around the world.
The first production, Drought and Rain (旱‧雨) by the Company Ea Sola from Vietnam, may draw comparisons with Lin’s piece Portrait of the Families (家族合唱). Lin himself noted the similarity at a press conference in Taipei last week, but said while his work was like a novel, Sola’s piece was pure poetry.
Both pieces look at and work from the collective memory of their respective societies, and revisit the horrors that war and bloodshed wrought on each. Both were revived by their creators last year. However, the similarities end there. While Lin’s work is performed by lithe, supple young bodies, the performers in Sola’s piece are women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who didn’t have to learn about the horrors of the past second-hand, they survived them: the first Indochina war against the French, the civil war, the Vietnam War.
French Vietnamese choreographer Sola was born in Vietnam, left in 1974 and ended up in Paris, where she became a performance artist. She also studied classical theatre, Japanese Noh and Butoh, and worked with the avant-garde Polish director Jerzy Grotowski. This diversity of experience is reflected in her stage productions.
WHAT: Drought and Rain
WHEN: Tomorrow, Friday and Saturday 7:30pm
WHERE: Novel Hall (新舞臺), 3-1 Songshou Rd, Taipei City (台北市松壽路3-1號)
ADMISSION: NT$500 to NT$2,000; available through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw as well as ERA’s ticketing system www.ticket.com.tw. Novel Hall’s ticket enquiry hotline is (02) 2723-7953
Tao Dance Theater, Oct. 13 at 7:30pm and Oct. 14 at 2:30pm;
Mau Dance, Oct. 19 and 20 at 7:30pm, Oct. 21 at 2:30pm; and
EDX2 Dance Company, Nov. 16 and 17 and 7:30pm. Admission as above
A grant from the French cultural ministry allowed her to return to Vietnam in 1990 for what became five years of field work into Vietnam’s traditional music and dance and led to the original production of Drought and Rain.
While conducting her research, Sola often found that only the older women remembered the traditional dances and celebrations — though by tradition, women were expected to keep their hair pinned up and to stop dancing once they married.
Sola has gone on record and said her original aim was to create a piece of music theatre inspired by collective memory of the war. She soon realized, however, that she would have to use real women, farmers and others “who belonged to the story” to make the work truthful.
The reaction to the first production was largely shock, both in Vietnam and when the piece toured the US, Sola said last week.
“The reaction in the US was very strong,” she said. “I saw people cry. Performers and audience stayed after the show. Afterwards I received letters from mothers, fathers [and] brothers; the piece brought them a reconnection with the son, the husband they had lost.”
The reaction in Vietnam was predictably stronger — though in a more complex way. “There are layers. It was a shock aesthetically: the women were so old, non-professionals without makeup. Not beautiful. The shock that there’s no color on stage — it’s black and white — the aesthetic minimalism; the shock to see yourself, your music in this angle. The last shock is the subject — the memory of war. It brought debate,” she said.